Thomas St. Lawrence

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Thomas St. Lawrence, also called Thomas Howth (c.1480–1553) was a leading statesman and judge in sixteenth-century Ireland. He held the offices of Attorney General for Ireland and judge of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland) and was a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. He is remembered today mainly for his efforts to save the life of John Alen, Archbishop of Dublin, who was murdered during the Rebellion of Silken Thomas. He was also noted for his opposition to the Reformation. The latter stance led to a bitter clash with the leading Protestant reformer John Bale, Bishop of Ossory. The St Lawrence family were Barons and later Earls of Howth, hence his alternative name Thomas Howth.

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John Alen was an English canon lawyer, whose later years were spent in Ireland. He held office as Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and was a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. For a few years he played a central role in the government of Ireland.



He was a younger son of Robert St Lawrence, 3rd Baron Howth. His date of birth and his mother's identity are unclear. His brother Nicholas St Lawrence, 4th Baron Howth, their father's son by his first wife, Alice White, was born around 1460; [1] but Thomas, who was a student in 1503 and still strong and healthy enough to undertake a long journey in 1553, must have been considerably younger. Elrington Ball is therefore probably correct in arguing that Thomas was one of the sons of the 3rd Baron by his second marriage to Joan Beaufort, daughter of Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, which took place in 1478. [2] This would put Thomas's birth at around 1480. Joan was a close relative of King Henry VII on his mother's side, which, if Thomas was her son, would help explain his rise to high political office, since the King was always good to his mother's family.

Robert St Lawrence, 3rd Baron Howth was a leading statesman in 15th-century Ireland who held the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Through marriage he was a close connection of the Tudor dynasty.

Nicholas St Lawrence, 4th Baron Howth was a leading Irish soldier and statesman of the early Tudor period, who held the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

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Early career

He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1503, and was still a member of the Inn in 1515. [2] He was back by Ireland by 1522 when he stood surety for Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, who was suspected of inciting rebellion. He was appointed Attorney General for Ireland in 1532, and second justice of the Court of King's Bench in 1535; he was also Chief Remembrancer of the Exchequer of Ireland. He was given a seat on the Privy Council, an unusual honour for a relatively junior judge, and one which suggests that he was held in high regard by the Crown. [3] He married the widowed Margaret Holywood of Artane, and was guardian of his stepson, the youthful Holywood heir, Nicholas. [4] He was living at Artane Castle when the Silken Thomas rebellion broke out in 1534: the cause of the rebellion was the false report that Silken Thomas' father, the ninth Earl of Kildare, had been executed.

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Murder of Archbishop Alen

Kildare and Alen had long been on bad terms; when the rumour of Kildare's death reached Ireland, Alen was accused of arranging his murder (in fact the Earl had died of natural causes). Fearing for his life, the Archbishop tried to flee to England, but his boat ran aground at Clontarf. He sought refuge in Artane Castle, whether because St. Lawrence was a friend of his, or simply because it was the nearest shelter he could find, is unclear. [5] St. Lawrence willingly took him in, but his whereabouts was discovered and he was captured. He was brought before Silken Thomas who gave the ambiguous order in Gaelic Beir uaim an bodach ("take this fellow away") whereupon his retainers, John Teeling and Nicholas Wafer, killed the Archbishop. Whether Silken Thomas intended to have Alen killed has never been clear; but no harm came to St. Lawrence for sheltering him. St. Lawrence was one of those later entrusted with putting down the rebellion. [2]

Clontarf, Dublin Suburb in Dublin, Leinster, Ireland

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Later controversies

He was opposed to the Reformation, but like many of the Anglo-Irish nobility, he was eventually persuaded of the advantages which would flow from the Suppression of the Monasteries, and he served on the commission for their suppression in 1541. [2] He was one of the original lessees of the King's Inn and signed the petition for the title to the property to transferred to the lessees in 1542. [6] He resigned as Remembrancer in 1544 on receiving a pension, but remained on the Privy Council. He received thanks from the Government of Edward VI for his faithful and diligent service in 1547. [2]

Reformation Schism within the Christian Church in the 16th-century

The Reformation was a movement in Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe. Although the Reformation is usually considered to have started with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517, there was no schism until the 1521 Edict of Worms. The edicts of the Diet condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas. The end of the Reformation era is disputed, it could be considered to end with the enactment of the confessions of faith which began the Age of Orthodoxy. Other suggested ending years relate to the Counter-Reformation, the Peace of Westphalia, or that it never ended since there are still Protestants today.

His good service to the Crown did not extend to support for the Church of Ireland, and on King Edward VI's death he took the opportunity to undermine the authority of the late King's Irish bishops. In particular he attacked John Bale, Bishop of Ossory, who was a gifted and prolific writer but an exceptionally quarrelsome individual, who was nicknamed "bilious Bale". [7] Despite his advanced age St. Lawrence travelled to Kilkenny to urge the public to oust Bale from office and to return to the Roman Catholic faith. His campaign was successful, and Bale soon left Ireland; St. Lawrence himself died a few months later.

Church of Ireland Anglican church in Ireland

The Church of Ireland is a Christian church in Ireland and an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. It is organised on an all-Ireland basis and is the second-largest Christian church on the island after the Roman Catholic Church. Like other Anglican churches, it has retained elements of pre-Reformation practice, notably its episcopal polity, while rejecting the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. In theological and liturgical matters, it incorporates many principles of the Reformation, particularly those espoused during the English Reformation. The church self-identifies as being both Catholic and Reformed. Within the church, differences exist between those members who are more Catholic-leaning and those who are more Protestant-leaning. For historical and cultural reasons, the Church of Ireland is generally identified as a Protestant church.

John Bale Anglican bishop in Ireland

John Bale was an English churchman, historian and controversialist, and Bishop of Ossory. He wrote the oldest known historical verse drama in English, and developed and published a very extensive list of the works of British authors down to his own time, just as the monastic libraries were being dispersed. His unhappy disposition and habit of quarrelling earned him the nickname "bilious Bale".

Bishop of Ossory

The Bishop of Ossory is an episcopal title which takes its name after the ancient of Kingdom of Ossory in the Province of Leinster, Ireland. In the Roman Catholic Church it remains a separate title, but in the Church of Ireland it has been united with other bishoprics.

He and his wife Margaret had one daughter, also called Margaret, who married William Bermingham, son of his colleague Patrick Bermingham, by whom she had eight children, including Patrick, the eldest son and heir. [2]

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Christopher St Lawrence, 8th Baron Howth was an Irish politician and peer. He was a member of the Privy Council of Ireland, and played a leading part in the Government of Ireland in the 1560s; but he later went into opposition and was imprisoned as a result. He was nicknamed the Blind Lord.

William St Lawrence, 12th Baron Howth (1628–1671) was an Irish nobleman of the Restoration period. He was an intelligent and popular man who would probably have played an influential role in Irish politics had it not been for his premature death.

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Richard Delahide was an Irish judge of the sixteenth century, who held the offices of Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas and Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. His career was seriously damaged by the Rebellion of Silken Thomas, in which several members of his family played a leading part, and he narrowly escaped permanent disgrace.

Christopher St Lawrence, 2nd Baron Howth was an Anglo-Irish nobleman. He was a key figure in fifteenth-century Irish politics, and one of the strongest supporters in Ireland of the House of York. His tomb can still be seen in the family chapel in St. Mary's Church, Howth.

Walter St. Lawrence (c.1445-1504) was an Anglo-Irish nobleman, lawyer and judge. He held the offices of Attorney General for Ireland and Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer.

Patrick Bermingham was an Irish judge and statesman of the Tudor period who held the offices of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland. He was a firm supporter of English rule in Ireland and enjoyed the confidence of Henry VIII, who saw him as a vital mainstay of his Irish administration.

Robert de Holywood was an Irish judge and landowner who held the office of Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. He was the ancestor of the Holywood family of Artane Castle, and of the Earls of Howth.

Sir William Darcy (c.1460–1540) was a leading Anglo-Irish statesman of the Pale in the early sixteenth century; for many years he held the office of Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. He wrote an influential treatise called The Decay of Ireland, for which he has been called "the father of the movement for political reformation in Ireland".

William St Lawrence, 14th Baron Howth (1688-1748) was an Irish peer and politician, who enjoyed the friendship of Jonathan Swift.


  1. Pine, L.G. The New Extinct Peerages 1884–1971 192 p.150
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 1926 John Murray London Vol.1 p.202
  3. Ball, F. Elrington History of Dublin Vol.5 1917 Alexander Thom and Co. Dublin p.63
  4. Ball 1917 p.64
  5. Ball 1926 p.129
  6. Kenny, Colum King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland Irish Academic Press Dublin 1992 p.33
  7. Ball 1926 p.130